Testing out the new panoramic iPhone photo apps

OK, Instagram is the hot photo sharing app for the iPhone, right? Sure! But there’s a new set of apps (with a couple more on the way) that do more than Instagram ever could: let you take 360-degree photos.

This weekend I visited Yosemite with my family. A bunch of my photos are up on my Flickr page, and you’ll see the standard fare like this shot of Yosemite Falls:

Yosemite Falls reflected

The thing is, last week Microsoft shipped a new panoramic photo app that I wanted to test out. It’s called Photosynth for iPhone, you can download it from iTunes here.

I wondered how it would compare to Occipital’s 360 Panorama app, which is my favorite for doing these quick 360-degree shots. You’ve seen me use these a few times, especially when I visit something like Facebook’s datacenter.

So, while standing in Yosemite valley, I thought I’d give these two a good test out. Here’s my two shots:

Yosemite Falls with Occipital’s 360 Panorama.

Yosemite Falls with Microsoft’s Photosynth.

Neither is perfect, so let’s cover the pros and cons:

Ways Occipital’s app wins:

* Easier to use. You just start up the app, click capture, and then pan the camera around. It took one shot to make this full 360-degree view. Just move smoothly in a circle and you’ll see it capture the image.
* Easier to view. Microsoft’s app requires Silverlight, so I’ve gotten some complaints that people couldn’t view images done with Microsoft’s Silverlight app, especially on iPads. Boo! Occipital’s images work just fine, though.
* Easier to share. Occipital’s app shares images on Facebook and Twitter, where Microsoft’s app just shares with Facebook. This really sucks when you want to share an image in near real time with Twitter folks (copying and pasting a URL in Microsoft’s app on the iPhone is very difficult, too, which makes this problem worse).

Ways Microsoft’s app wins?

* Better image quality overall.
* Users can zoom the image in!
* Photosynth makes a 3D map of the world around you. Eventually this map will make it possible to join different people’s Photosynths together.
* Some people will like the “shoot one tile at a time” approach because it makes seams less obvious and also encourages you to shoot more of the scene (my Occiptal image doesn’t show the entire sky and ground, while the Photosynth does).
* Photosynth has a community where you can search for other people’s Photosynths (and other people can find yours).

Anyway, both apps are really great, and if you don’t have one or both on your iPhone you’ll be missing out when you get someplace like Yosemite that just DEMANDS a 360-degree view!

My end review:

Microsoft Photosynth: 4 out of 5 stars (not including Twitter and relying too much on Silverlight are biggest sins, if you want to view on iPad you might give this a far lower rating, like Ben Kessler did).
Occipital’s 360 Panorama: 3.5 stars out of 5. (Seams too obvious and not easy to capture a complete top-to-bottom 360-degree view).